Actor, painter, poet and, of late, playwright David Brendan Hopes moves through language with the sinewy, uninhibited grace of a double-jointed Rodney Yee protege. He dabbles in form with reckless abandon (here, a work of fiction; here, nature writing) and — enjoy verse or not — one thing can be said with certainty about Hopes’ newly published poetry tome: A Dream of Adonis (Pecan Grove Press, 2007) nimbly avoids the cliches, preciousness and cringe moments that generally plague poetry.
From the outset — from the cover, actually, which bears a Marc Chagall-like rendering of a man nude but for a blue scarf, flying across the moon astride a giant white goose — the book is unapologetic. The painting is Hopes’ work. This is his show in which he stars as himself. The poems are mostly love poems, many of the panting, lustful ilk, often directed toward hot young guys (”… anything but this gilt steel boy with honey curls”). Hence the Adonis tribute.
Adonis, the Greek god of desire and manly good looks, is a complex character. He also presides over spring and vegetation and all things verdant and regenerating. But the double-edged sword of birth, youthful vigor and gold-tinged good looks is death and mourning. In the case of mythological Adonis, untimely death at the tusks of a wild boar. In the case of Hopes’ book, the knowledge of one’s own mortality and metaphoric autumn.
“‘Van Morrison doesn’t sing so well after all’ / says one boy to another at the bar./ A man moving toward his prime / would never think such a thought,” Hopes writes. Beauty, the book suggests, is best appreciated by those who have aged beyond their own physical charms.
There are inklings of other poetry collections: Irish poet Paul Durcan‘s A Snail in my Prime and Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. Art, memory, love and loss are hardly new themes in verse, but Hopes (like Durcan and Whitman) tackles them with such ferocious, unabashed honesty that they breathe new life into age-old grapplings.
Adonis, set between New York, the Blue Ridge mountains and rain-damp, romantic locales dotting the Irish landscape, offers a lush backdrop for the dream-scape of words and emotions Hopes dashes across the page. Some poems are tightly personal, others throw themselves open to the reader. Spiritual musings are flushed with lust, grave sites prove not an end but a linking of generations, geographic borders aren’t hard-drawn lines in the sand, but mere suggestions of what has been and what’s to come.
— Alli Marshall, A&E reporter